NXR HEARTLAND BOYS TEAM PREVIEWS:
Mounds View (MN) - Mounds View could hardly have made things much closer, or run a better-executed race, last week when they pulled out a one-point win in the Minnesota State Championships for the first team title in school history, but it was a great representation of the season the team has had. Running a minimal schedule of races (the State Meet was only the sixth race run by the team's top varsity runners this year) and with a focused and patient mentality, Mounds View has surely and methodically been building up to making a return trip to NXN. Finn Sokolowski has been the team's top runner all season, but the greatest strength of Mounds View is their pack mentality and ability to run with ferocity in the second half of races, much like how Wayzata has achieved success when they were at their strongest. As long as Mounds View is able to execute their gameplan to the best of their ability like they did at the State Meet, they will have a great chance to qualify for the second year in a row
Eden Prairie (MN) - Whenever you have a team win a State Championship by one point, that means someone had to lose by one, and Eden Prairie found themselves on the short end last week. However, that also means that Eden Prairie, the top-ranked team in Minnesota prior to the State Meet who defeated Mounds View in September despite being down their top runner Jake Derouin (who has since returned), will come into NXR with something to prove. While the strategy of getting out hard the first miles backfired last week, the flat, looped, crowded Heartland course is a lot better suited for that type of race, which may swing the advantage back in favor of EP. Derouin has looked stronger every race since he came back from a femoral stress reaction and may find himself in or near the top ten individually, and if the rest of Eden Prairie's pack can all have great races on the same day, they can make their first trip to NXN since 2009.
Dowling Catholic (IA) - In a lot of ways, the season for the Maroons has mirrored that of Mounds View in that their top varsity squad only ran a limited number of meets, were focused year-end success, and eked out a win at the State Championships against teams that, heading into the meet, they had been ranked behind. To this day, Dowling is the only Iowan school ever to qualify for NXN (doing so in 2012), and their performance at State bodes well for them. They have one of the meet's best runners and a potential top-fifteen finisher in Sam Hall and a strong pack behind him, much like Eden Prairie. They also have a potential game changer in Will Ode, who returned to racing just a few weeks ago after missing the first several weeks of the season. Two years ago, Ode took 30th overall at NXR Heartland as that team fell just short of qualifying for NXN, and after missing last year's meet, he'll return to the course where he set his lifetime-best time of 15:32. If Ode can be a serious factor in team scoring, Dowling Catholic could likely return to NXN for the first time in seven years.
Middleton (WI) - Last year, Middleton faced injuries, inconsistency during the season, and were not able to win their own State championships for which they had been the strong favorite. But none of that mattered on race day when they qualified for NXN for the second year in a row to become the only Wisconsin team ever to make that trip twice. This year, they could join Wayzata and Edina as the only schools to make it out of NXR Heartland at least three times, let alone three years in a row. With top runner Roman Ystenes sitting out most of the season, Middleton has nonetheless managed to perfect an extreme pack mentality that not only saw them win the Wisconsin State Championship with a 19-second spread, but even as late as the two-mile mark in that race, their top five runners were still all side-by-side. Every one of Middleton's top six runners has finished as their top runner at least once this season, and it's even possible that Ystenes (who took 20th overall at last year's race) could make a return for one last push as a senior.
|1) Roman Ystenes||16:09.5|
|2) Egan Johnson||16:14.7|
|3) Peter Hoferle||16:17.3|
|4) Braedon Gilles||16:19.1|
|5) Zachary Leffel||16:22.2|
|Average Time: 16:16.56 Total Time: 1:21:22.80 1-5 Split: 12.70|
|6) Griffin Ward||16:30.0|
|7) Ryan Schollmeyer||16:47.4|
Dubuque Hempstead (IA) - Following a third place finish at the IHSAA 4A state championship, just four points from second and 13 from a team title, Duqubue Hempstead looks to have a team capable of challenging for a top five spot at NXRHL. They had a better split than both Dowling Catholic and Pleasant Valley but had slightly less speed at the front and back in the state meet. Yet season best data looks strong if the fifth man can perform at his top level. Five of the seven who ran in the Iowa state meet last week also ran at NXR last season when the team was 26th. Not only is it very likely they improve on that finish, but this season's Hempstead team could challenge for an NXN qualifying spot if juniors Ryan Winger and Owen Maloney can both fight their way into the top fifty but it will also take an improvement in the fifth position to compete with the pack running programs at the front.
Lincoln Southwest (NE) - The Nebraska Class A state champ, Lincoln Southwest looks like a top five contender in speed rating based projections as the top representative from their state. Though their times do not appear in the same form as some of the top competitors, their speed rating adjusted performances suggest they may be able to compete at the front of the team standings. Five of seven from their state title team ran in last year's NXRHL race where they finished 18th. Most of the team posted faster results at the state meet two weeks ago than they did at NXR last season and they seem to be on the rise at the right time.
Stevens Point (WI) - A good Stevens Point team was edged head to head by Middleton in the WIAA Division 1 race. They had a 33 second split and just one second behind in team average with a 16:32 average. The ability to average under 16:30 and split under 45 seconds is the level of quality required to be a top ten squad at NXRHL. Speed ratings indicate the performances in Wisconsin meets may predict SPASH (and Middleton) will benefit from a fast Yankton Trails course more than the average team at Heartland. This program is among the best traditions in Wisconsin and will certainly have confidence running in a big meet. The key for SPASH will be the same as many: can their pack move forward far enough to be a top ten team as they don't have an elite front runner so the team score will get lower through a complete team effort.
|1) Jake Bourget||15:56.0|
|2) Jake Lepak||16:01.0|
|3) Christian Manthey||16:37.1|
|4) Zach Scharbarth||16:38.3|
|5) James Jacobs||16:39.6|
|Average Time: 16:22.40 Total Time: 1:21:52.00 1-5 Split: 43.60|
|6) Tristan Sernau||16:41.9|
|7) Josh Bourget||16:42.0|
OTHER TEAMS TO WATCH:
White Bear Lake (MN) - Posted a slightly disappointing finish at MSHSL Class AA (7th) meet but their season best numbers and tight pack running could have them in the top 10 at NXRHL.
Perham (MN) - Completed third straight Minnesota Class A title win at MSHSL Championship last week and their top five compare favorably with many teams in the top ten range. 25th last season.
Pleasant Valley (IA)- IHSAA 4A runner-up just 11 points behind Dowling Catholic with 16:06 average in that state final, 11th at NXRHL last season.
Washburn Rural (KS)- Just claimed a Kansas 6A state title at the famous Rim Rock Farm with 16:36 average and 50 second split beating Olathe South and Mill Valley head to head. Could be the best team from KS.
Bismarck Century (ND)- North Dakota's best boys squad won the big school meet with a very impressive 16:14 average over a skinny 12 second split, just the type of performance it would take to run in the top ten at NXRHL.
Sioux Falls Lincoln (SD)- The dominant boys power in South Dakota just won their sixth AA title in eight years with 16:25 average. 10th at NXRHL last season.